Happy Birthday to me!

Trip Start Dec 01, 2007
Trip End Mar 27, 2010

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Flag of Guinea  ,
Friday, January 18, 2008

Ok, hi everyone. First and most importantly today is my 22nd birthday.  I realize 22 isn't very special but it gives all of us somethig to celebrate.  This isn't the first birthday I've spent away from home.  My 18th birthday I go an industrial piecing in my ear and my dad was so upset he didn't even say Happy Birthday to me.  This year I already received a birthday package and card from my parents. So even across the ocean I'm feeling more love.  Thanks to all the Friends of Guinea parents/siblings for the birthday cards, too.  I got my package a couple weeks ago and it is honestly what has ept me sane.  Backpackers meals not only give me nutrients I'm severly lacking but the taste of american food is heaven in my mouth.  I've eaten the Chicken Curry and Beef and Chili Mac.  I've shared both of them because let's be serious, I'm not the only suffering.  The Tootsie Pops are also amazing. My mom sent them so I could give them to my brothers and sisters but that just wansn't happening.  I've been eating them and sharing them with other PCTs.  So basically, I love you mom.
But today has been amazing.  Everyone is being awesome.  Most people remembered.  I got 2 text message from other trainees before I even lef my house.  They put together a collection called "Get Jess out of the hole fund" because I owe 75000 Guinean francs to various people.  I got a huge card that everyone signed and put really nice messages and I got a banana with candles that was smothered in chocolate sause, which I ended up licking off the plate.  So when any G15er reads this, I love you guys!
Training is going. It's a lot of work. Class from 8-5 is too much.  I wish we had more down town.  We found a portion of the river nearby where there are no "devils". Meaning crocodiles or schistosomiasis which are little worms that crawl into your body through your feet.  Kinda gross.  I would love to spend more ime there ut so far I've only been there twice.  The last time I went there were no Guineans so I was able to lay out in my bathing suit, get a little sun and feel comfortable in my skin.  No apologizing for being a woman.  One of my new greatest pleasures is when I'm able to show my knees, when I'm in the company of only Americans, otherwise it would be culturally insensitive.  Since we have to keep them covered all day, everyday I've sometimes forgotten that I have knees.  It's unforunate and though I've never been particularly fond o my knees, they're kind of knobby, Guinea has made me love them.  
So yesterday Public Health (my sector) had our 3rd sensibilization.  This was our first one in front of Guineans.  Kim was my partner and we presented to 6th graders in a little village between Forecariah and Maferenya.  We presented on depigmentation which is a big problem for girls but some boys do it too.  You can find creams, lotions and sprays in the market that lighten the skin.  They contain hydroquinone and sometimes mercury.  They work by blocking the production of melanin which is found in the epidermis and is our protection against the sun.  Obviously, blocking that is a bad idea in Africa.  Using the products causes a bad skin oder, mushroom like bubbles on the skinm sometimes it actually darkens the skin, lowers the immune system as it travels though the blood stream and into the liver, and it can cause skin cancer.  Now try to imagine presenting all of that in French to 14-16 year olds in an hour.  I fully enjoyed myself.  We ryed keeping it as interactive as possible with the point of our presentation being you are beautiful just as God made you.  My favorite activity was when we asked some of the kids to come to he front and write what they like best about their bodies.  One girl wrote "my body" and one boy liked his tongue best.  I think we got our point across even though most of our presentation had to be translated into susu because they spoke worse French than we did.  I find it much easier to present in French than English.  As those of you who know me well will remember I get pretty petrified before public speaking, borderline panic attacks.  But I was so relaxed before and during this presentaton.  If you stutter or ess up in English its because you're a bad public speaker, if you do it in French its because you haven't yet mastered the language, much more forgivable than the former.
I think I'm becoming a much more relaxed person in general.  Even though the pace of life in the MidWest is slower than other parts of the country, the pace is here is slower still.  Also the other day I found a dead rat in my shower area but I was already in the midst of washing so I just scooted it over and continued to wash.  Then I threw it out after...no drama.  I did have a freak out moment a couple days ago.  I wentto bathe and my flashlight shown on my toilet paper where there was the most ginormous spider sitting there.  It spanned the entire roll with legs that wrapped on the top and around the roll.  I grabbed a 6ft long unused sewage pipe nearby and thus began the epic battle with the bohemoth.  It took a good 10 minutes of scrambling and me trying to stay s far away as possble but still kill him.  It was not pretty but in the end I defeated the monster and continued with my bucket bath.
So if you have been paying attention to Guinea you already know there have been some problems here.  I don't know how much I'm allowed to say.  But the president has taken action that the unions feel violates the agreements rached last year.  So they threatened to strike a week ago but the strike has been postponed indefinately.  We were supposed o leave for Mamou last Thursday but because of the threat of a strike (which would shut down the transporation system, not good for us) we were delayed a week.  It was a big bummer for everyone so Peace Corps gave us a BBQ to boost morale.  I have my first hamburger in over a month and I love hamburgers!  We had White Cheddar Mac and Cheese, Potato Salad, French fries with ketchup!!, etc.  That was almost worth being delayed for.
But now we've started our counterpart workshop.  I've met the woman who I will be working with for the next 2 years.  She is the Chef de Sante in my village and she seems very chill.  Sunday we will leave for site visit in a bush taxi and I'm sure I'll have tons of stories about that for you.  I am very excited to see my village, talk in Malinke and make my little mud hut cozy.  We stay there for 3 days and then go back to training, where we only have 9 days left before becoming a real Peace Corps Volunteer!!
So I have yet to receive letters from anyone but parents, which I'm very grateful for, don't get me wrong. But friend? Where are you?  Katie and Emily thanks for the phone calls, though! So good to talk to you. I'm thinking if you are writing maybe you're not writing the right address.  Make sure you put Corps de la Paix under my name and West Africa beside Guinee.
Ok well I feel I've taken enough of your precious time.  I'm hoping to make another entry soon.  Perhaps at the regional capital of Kankan in a few days where I'll tell you all about my new village. Bonne nuit tout le monde.  
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unklebob on

Happy Birthday
Thanks so much for sending the link to your blog. It choked me up a little to read, since you write just the way you talk, and I felt like you were right here telling me of your adventures. That was until I got to the part about the spider - then I had to stop a minute so I could finish laughing.

I think about you every day, and brag on you like you were my own child. I am so very proud of you, and even a little jealous. I wish I had your fortitude and mental toughness when I was 22. The lessons you are learning will make you a better person for your entire life. The tolerance for others and appreciation for their cultures and respect for their way of life are lessons that far too many people everywhere never get.

We are all happy and healthy. We have seen considerable snow this year, although that has been mixed with warm days that melt it. I hear the skiing is good in Vermont, and we plan a weekend at Beth's aunt's house soon to take advantage.

Dana is still loving school. We received a note from the headmistress last week that clarified their policy for snow days. They have not had a closure in over 20 years since 75% of students and all faculty live on campus and they even have generators for power. They made it clear that parents should make the call anytime that snow presented any hazard, and can pick up early when necessary as well. They also allow day students to stay in the dorms anytime they want, and encourage it if ther is a forecast for a big storm.
We had a big storm forecast last Sunday night, so Dana decided to stay over her friend's house that lives a block from campus. We got hit with 14 inches of heavy, wet snow that ruined my travel day Monday. The funny thing is that it knocked out power to the school, and the generator was down for repair. Miss Porters was closed - and the headmistress wrote a very amusing letter to the parents this week with the taste of crow in her mouth.

Dana was elated, of course. She went sliding all day with her friends. They made a jump ramp at the bottom of a hill, and she and one friend decided to tackle it together on a sled. They flew high - and banged their heads together. Dana is now sporting a world-class shiner. She looks like she took on Mike Tyson. No real damage - just the pain of having to take more kidding from dad.

I am traveling to San Antonio every Monday morning now. Of course there are no direct flights, so I go through Atlanta. I then fly to Seattle Tuesday night, again no direct flights, so I go through Houston. I fly home on the red-eye Thursday night, and guess what? No direct flights so I go to LA first. Seems like I spend 4 days in a plane or meeting then 3 days at home in a different universe. I will be finishing this assignment in early March with no idea of what is next, so I will keep you posted.

Well enough for now - know that you are in my thoughts and I love you much.

Uncle Bob

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